NORTHFIELD, MINN. – The sight of two unbeaten Augsburg teams traveling to Carleton for a Saturday afternoon doubleheader seemed as if it were a fine excuse to catch up on MIAC basketball in this first winter without St. Thomas.
The Tommies dominated in numerous sports, and that was particularly true in hoops. As St. Thomas now takes its lumps in the Division I Summit League, the Augsburg women had reached 13-0 and the men were 11-0.
The Auggies men ran into COVID problems and were forced to cancel Wednesday's game at Bethel. That was repeated when Saturday's game was canceled.
The MIAC has decided to declare all games not played on the original date to be cancellations, not postponements. At mid-week, the league announced that all of its teams would participate in a single-elimination playoff at the end of the regular season.
Obviously, the Augsburg angle had suffered a touch with no men's game at 3 p.m. against coach Guy Kalland's strong (9-3) Carleton team.
So what? This could be a tribute to the first-place women's team that Ted Riverso had put together in his seventh year since returning to the MIAC as Augsburg's coach.
Riverso had created the St. Thomas powerhouse in 15 seasons from 1984 to 1999, worked in administration, and then as an assistant to Pam Borton with the Gophers. He was convinced to apply for the Augsburg job by Bill McKee, a longtime friend.
McKee was Augsburg's women's coach and was dying of cancer in the summer of 2015. Riverso was reluctant to return to Division III, but how do you say "no" to a dying friend and fellow basketball nut?
Riverso has had more talented teams than this one, but with the double-post of Jen Masello and Anja Smith, the Auggies had won a few easy ones and pulled out a handful of close ones.
And then Saturday happened, against Carleton and another legendary MIAC coach making a comeback.
Tammy Metcalf-Filzen won more games than any Carleton women's coach in 13 seasons ending in 2010. She was already a member of the Carleton Hall of Fame when returning to coach in the fall of 2019.
Augsburg had defeated Carleton by 25 in early December in Minneapolis. The coaches were talking before the game.
"Take it easy on my neighbor Ted," I said to Metcalf-Filzen, in reference to having Riverso's abode close enough to see him walking around the block on occasion.
The Carleton coach shook her head and said: "Other way around." And then she lamented the lack of height and the fact three former players had decided not to return for the school year due to COVID concerns.
Never trust a coach, especially a very good one such as Metcalf-Filzen. The Knights swarmed on defense, drove relentlessly to the basket down the stretch, benefited from Augsburg missing quite a number of two-footers, and this was the final:
Carleton (now 5-10 in the MIAC) 59, Augsburg (now 13-1) 49.
There were no fans due to COVID restrictions implemented by the school when this semester started. That was unfortunate; wacky Carleton students choosing to attend could have reveled in the effort.
"We had some tough players on the floor this afternoon," Metcalf-Filzen said.
At that moment, 5-10 Jasmine Choi — 19 points, 14 rebounds — walked past and her coach said: "She's tough … she battled those bigs inside."
St. Thomas' departure has not damaged the MIAC's familial vibe. That was hugely evident when Kalland won his 500th game as Carleton's men's coach — dating to his hiring from Inver Hills Community College for the 1984-85 season.
Number 500 was a 65-55 victory at Bethel on Jan. 12. The losing coach was Zach Filzen, in his first season with the Royals, and Tammy's son.
Which is the MIAC for you.
There have been five men's NCAA college coaches in Minnesota to win 500 games at one school, and all have been in the MIAC: Jim Smith (St. John's), Steve Fritz (St. Thomas), Joe Hutton (Hamline), Mark Hanson (Gustavus) and now Kalland at Carleton, with those world-renowned academics.
What is it about the MIAC — coaches show up and stay forever?
"I'd say it's the people we get to coach," Kalland said Saturday. "It's the commitment you see from all of our athletes, all of the students, really. That's what makes these places special."